Visit FABTECH with Cap-Ex Priorities, and a Skill-Enhancement Plan, in Place

By: Brad Kuvin

Monday, October 1, 2018

There is no shortage of surveys intended to gauge the health of the U.S. manufacturing sector, and different surveys can offer inconsistent views. For example, the oft-quoted ISM Manufacturing Index, from the Institute of Supply Management, rose to a 14-yr. high this past August. In contrast, the most recent IHS Markit Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) survey reflects more moderate, albeit reasonable, growth in the sector.

While both indexes bode well for our industry and are especially comforting as FABTECH approaches, it’s important to understand the differences between the two surveys. The ISM panel comprises only very large companies, whereas the IHS Markit PMI collects data in a manner that ensures the appropriate representation of small, medium and large companies. Armed with this knowledge, we can assume, then, that while small manufacturing companies are in many cases enjoying fruitful times, larger companies are performing even better.

Wondering why this may be true, I turn to yet another survey, this one extremely important and eye opening. Conducted every 4 yr. by L.E.K. Consulting, the recently released Manufacturing Priorities Survey indicates significant capital-equipment and infrastructure investment in the coming years, investments that likely favor larger companies. Specifically, L.E.K. research reveals that 40 percent of manufacturers plan to invest in automation and Internet of Things (IoT) technology in the next 5 yr.—investments that don’t come cheap. It also finds that more than half—54 percent—are “modernizing manufacturing lines for future automation.” These investments are necessary to help ensure future success.

One last stat: 38 percent of surveyed companies are retraining employees for different functions, presumably to work on automation equipment such as robots. They note that a significant hurdle to adopting automation is a lack of trained employees to utilize the equipment.

The lesson here: Prepare your workforce now for the modern, automated metalforming plant of the future. Many community colleges around the country now offer degreed programs in advanced manufacturing. Seek out and add these graduates to your ranks. These folks will soon run your plant floors, able to program, run and troubleshoot robotic and transport-based automation, modular workcells, automated assembly stations and welding centers, and more.

So, as you walk the FABTECH show in November, spying the latest/greatest technologies to enhance your operations, or even as you peruse the new equipment described in the pages that follow, don’t forget that the addition of new technology requires the addition of new skill sets. Make sure you have a plan in place.


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